More than 40 school districts in Kentucky — including Madison and Woodford counties — are asking the state for an alternative to the traditional snow day, a state education official said.
All 13 school districts in the Kentucky Department of Education's 2014-15 pilot program — which allowed students to learn from home on snow days — met state criteria and were able to count them as regular attendance days, said David Cook, director of innovation and partner engagement for the education department.
In addition to those 13 districts, at least 28 more have applied to be part of the program in 2015-16, Cook said.
In districts that were in the program this year, there was "an increased connection between teachers and parents" as they helped students complete their school work from home, Cook said.
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There was a realization among teachers "as to what was possible when you weren't confined to the classroom," he said.
In the 2014-15 school year, the education department approved waivers that allowed certain districts to use virtual or other non-traditional means of instruction when school was cancelled because of weather or another emergency. In many cases, students carried out snow day lessons online.
Districts in the program count a maximum of 10 non-traditional instruction days as regular attendance days. Those districts don't have to make up the snow days at the end of the year.
Jessamine County was among the districts in the 2014-15 program. The state accepted applications for 2015-16 from districts until Friday. Applicants for the pilot will be assessed on proposed teaching methods, equal access to lessons for students without Internet access, community engagement and assessment of students.
Woodford County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins said his district applied for the pilot because "it can lessen the impact of days that you miss for inclement weather."
"We do think it could be a very positive use of that time on a limited basis when we happen to be out of school," said Hawkins. "I wouldn't envision us using it more than five to six days in a year, if that many."
Erin Stewart, community education director for Madison County schools, said that before applying for the pilot, Madison district officials talked to staff in Jessamine County.
"We really felt like Jessamine County had a positive experience this past year and we want to be able to have that option for our kids and our teachers as well," Stewart said.
Success in Jessamine County meant that the district had a 98.5 percent participation rate among staff in the snow-day pilot, said Maurice Chappell, director of implementation and innovation for Jessamine County schools. Students who completed their work ranged from at least 78 percent to 84 percent over a 10-day period, Chappell said.
School districts participating in the pilot program in 2014-15 were Boyle County, Corbin Independent, Grant County, Jessamine County, Johnson County, Lawrence County, Leslie County, Owsley County, Pike County, Taylor County, Todd County, Washington County and Wolfe County.
In evaluating whether districts in the pilot could count days when schools were not open as regular attendance days, state officials reviewed data, including how many students and teachers participated. State education officials also visited the districts.
Cook said that when students miss four or five days of school in a row because of winter weather, it can take teachers three days to get students caught up.
He said that students in the pilot who completed assignments at home, often with online help or telephone calls from teachers, were "more prepared to get back in the learning environment" when they returned to school.
Among the 13 districts in the 2014-15 pilot, five districts, including Jessamine and Johnson, had students study from home for the maximum 10 days allowed under the pilot, Cook said.
Under state law, the minimum school term must be 185 days, including at least 1,062 instructional hours in no fewer than 170 student attendance days.